Gold Mining Today: The Harsh Untold Conflicts

Article by MiaDonna

Brought into mainstream knowledge through the popular movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, most people are now familiar with the perils of blood diamonds. Those diamonds are mined in war zones or conflict areas and sadly the diamonds are valued more than the lives of those who mined them. Awareness has been brought to the issues surrounding diamond mining, and now attention must shift to its less-known, just as devastating counterpart – gold mining.


What is Conflict Gold?


Conflict gold is one of the biggest drivers of conflict in some African countries, specifically Burkina Faso. As the fastest growing producer of gold in Africa, commercial mining projects undertaken by foreign companies brought in a huge $300 million profit for the government in 2018. So, it is clear to see the financial appeal to gold mining. But, everything must come at a price.

A CNN report has outlined the true damage of informal mining on the national economy. An interview with Bachir Ismael Ouédraogo, Burkina Faso's minister of energy revealed that a shocking 20 tons of gold are lost annually through informal mining and exports. This equates to roughly $1 billion on the open market. Creating a war economy that relies on well-coordinated routes across the African continent finances unthinkable violence.

open pit mine in Africa showing harsh working conditions

The Solhan Massacre


Children were used in a 48-hour deadly rampage for gold which took place in June 2021. While the ripples it made on international news have long since faded, the tragedy lives on in the hearts of the grieving community. An estimated 200 people lost their lives over that dark, brutal two-day period. The attack is thought to have been planned by the jihadist insurgent group "Group to Support Islam and Muslims", from neighboring Mali. Though, devastatingly, it was primarily carried out by child soldiers aged 12 to 14.


Due to the conditions at these mines, most of the workers sleep outside. Inside the mine is too hot, and going home is too long a journey. When the attackers came in, the gold diggers who were still working were trapped in the mine and murdered at random, while the workers outside were slaughtered en masse as they slept. The apocalyptic scene has been described by a survivor who made 8 trips on their motorcycle cab, to carry the corpses away from the scene.

child soldiers equipped with ak-47 rifles

Consumer Responsibility


The issue of elicit mining is hugely complex. Smaller-scale mining enterprises are often locked out of trade possibilities and so are vulnerable to cooption by terrorist groups. This is highlighted in the HumAngle article that reported local gold miners in Nigeria’s Zamfara region as responding to a state ban on mining by selling directly to terror groups, offering them safety from the rebel armed forces as well as economic compensation. 


Money makes the world go round, and that is why we have a responsibility to spend ours where it counts. Illicit gold mines are frequently used to finance terrorist networks, leaving unthinkable violence and hardship in its wake. While in the past it has been easy enough for this to slip your mind when ordering a fine piece of jewelry, today it is absolutely essential. No piece of gold and no size of a diamond is worth more than human life.

child working in an open pit gold mine

The Future for Miners


Many governments are pushing to formalize their country’s artisanal and small-scale mining enterprises (ASM). Legalizing these has many benefits on paper, as it offers more opportunities to those who work as legitimate gold diggers, while simultaneously protecting them from attack by terrorist groups. Theoretically, if protected by government forces and given access to trading opportunities, these mines could flourish.

The other option, banning artisanal mining, simply won’t work. There will always be buyers who choose a low cost over a legitimate source, or who prefer the ease of receiving precious jewels without the cumbersome paperwork. So, banning artisanal mining only pushes these networks underground, encouraging cooperation with terrorist groups. As the relationship between ASM and terrorist groups run deep, task forces dedicated to formalizing them have experienced limited success, and have run into many problems.


What Can I Do?


The good news is you don’t have to stop buying gold altogether. Choosing eco-friendly, recycled gold jewelry is a great way to ensure your luxuries aren't made at the expense of others. Don’t choose a ring just because it’s cheaper if the gold may come from an unknown source. If you do, you may inadvertently be funding tragedies such as the Solhan Massacre. Shop responsibly, and choose companies that take care of their workers, and the environment.


What’s one step better than buying legitimately mined gold? Choosing recycled. While many companies claim to use recycled metals, most use a mixture of recycled and newly mined gold. At MiaDonna we only use precious metals that have been melted down and reconstructed, meaning we don’t support the mining practices that frequently harm communities and cause displacement. Plus, as all of our jewelry is crafted in the United States, you can trust in its quality and legitimacy.


Don’t turn a blind eye to how your purchases and choices can affect people who are thousands of miles away. Alternatives to conflict-ridden gold that instead empower people are simple to find, so why not wear only conflict-free jewelry to clear your conscience while helping others? A ring on your finger isn’t worth the hardship caused to make it.